Short Stories: Typewriter Repair
It is not as easy being an art type as it may seem. What I mean to say is that just because one paints nudes instead of subways does not mean that life is a bowl of pitted cherries. Who ever heard of a wife or lover getting jealous of a wall of graffiti? Sometimes, too, the art type can be overcome with the sheer mechanics of raising his brainchild to its rightful place in the world of adult entertainment. (That may be not quite what I meant to say.) In the case of writers, and here I include myself, the weapons of the enemy number among them such as the gerund phrase. At the moment, however, even if I could remember the slipperier points of English grammatical convention, I would not be able to write them down; my typewriter is once again in the shop. Now I am not one to look a gift horsepower in the mouth, knowing that some struggle along with quill pens and worse, but as Mark Twain had his watch repairman, I have my typewriter repairman.
It all started when, due to one of those little twists of fate, I was given the choice of survival (food, rent, etc.) or the convenience of owning an IBM Selectric. You see, I had the IBM, but I hadn’t the food, rent, etc., and even though I had owned it for only three months (just long enough to establish myself as an insufferable elitist with my acquaintances), the option was clear. To replace it, I hit the classified ads with a fervor and made appointments with everyone advertising a portable typewriter for cheap.
I should have known from the first that I was in for it. The only decent used machine I could find advertised was clear over on the other side of town. Of course, it was in far from perfect condition. It was in need of a bath and the left margin was missing in action. Still, as I said, the best to be had. In fact, I still have it. I keep it for sentimental reasons — I can’t bear to part with the money it would cost for a new one.
The house owned by the people selling this beauty was indistinguishable from any other on the block, except for the three mobile homes parked in front, barely leaving room for the brace of Mercedes in the drive. The inside was filled with antiques so old and rich that I mistook a statue for my hostess, and wasted a full ten minutes telling it my “I’m so poor” story. By the time the search party found me, I was too embarrassed to repeat myself. The lady excused the sale of the typewriter in some oblique reference to a “rather large” male stone figure being shipped in from Rhodes for which they needed to make room. Before I could wonder at that, she plowed on.
“We were planning to sell this typewriter for $30 … isn’t that what we had in the paper? … because of the broken margin thing here. But you look like you’re handy with tools, so I’ll let you have it for $35.”
I sobbed my thanks and tipped her five dollars to show me the way out of the place. It wasn’t until I got to my car that I noticed that the instructions were in Old English, stating “…this machyne wille dazzyl and amayze, and produce the prynt’d werde at a rayte equal to or superior to the hand scryble.” I did not read the part about the “full 34-character keyboard.”
As soon as I was back on familiar turf, I sought out a typewriter repair shop that employed English-speaking help and hurried inside. The shop was empty except for a man seated at a desk at the back. He looked up at me.
“Hi. How are you? I’ll be with you in a minute. I just have some papers to fill out.” He finished with his papers, then came over to the counter. “Yes, what can I do you you?”
“I saw your ad in the Times that said you would tell me what is wrong with my typewriter for free, with this ad.”
“That’s right. Let’s take a look here. Hmm.” He opened the case and looked inside. “Sure do have an old one, don’t you?”
“Well, I just bought it. As far as I know, it only needs a cleaning and the left margin does not work.”
“Ah, yes. When do you need it?”
“Can you tell what is wrong with it?”
“No. This is an internal problem. I’ll have to take it apart.”
“It would seem that most problems are internal problems, aren’t they? What’s your guess? Does it seem serious?”
“I really can’t say without taking it apart, sir.”
“Well, tell me this; are you going to have trouble finding parts for a machine this old?”
“It’s impossible to say, sir. They haven’t made this model for at least ten years, but I’m going to have to take it apart. It’s just like buying a car.”
“What can you tell me about this brand of typewriter? Do they hold up well in general?”
“I … really … couldn’t say anything about that. I’m just going to have to take it apart,” he said.
“I don’t want to bug you, but you see I would rather not spend a lot of money fixing this thing if it’s not going to last a couple of years.”
“Yes, well, I can’t help you there. There is no way of knowing unless I take it apart and really get into it. It’s just like buying a car.”
“Evidently,” I thought to myself, “this man has just had a traumatic experience buying a car, and was not yet quite right in the head for it all.” He had, by this time, boxed the typewriter back up, having finished fooling with the margin.
“Okay, I’ll tell you what. I’ll leave it here for a cleaning, and you can look it over while you do that.”
“It says here on the coupon that you will clean it and check it out mechanically and put in a new ribbon all for $8.50.”
“We can’t fix it for that.”
“Yes, I know. I just want to know what is wrong with it before I spend more money on it.”
“I won’t be able to tell that until I take it apart.”
“It’s just like a car, I imagine,” I said.
“Yes, quite. Of course, the dismantling charge is refunded if you decide to have the work done here.”
“What dismantling charge? I thought the estimate was free.”
“It is, unless we have to take it apart. Then it’s $3.50. If you decide to have us do the work, that money goes toward the cost of repairs.”
“And you have to take it apart?”
“Oh, yes sir. It’s just like buying a car.”
“Oh, yes sir.”
“Fine. When do you need it?”
“I’d like to have it by tomorrow, if possible, although I could wait until the day after if I could pick it up in the morning. I want to take it with me to San Diego. Can you have it done by then?”
“I have no way of knowing that, sir. I’ll have to take it apart, and then I can let you know.”
“Is this your correct phone number?” he asked, pointing to the card that I had filled out just ten seconds before.
“Yes, it is.”
“Fine. I’ll call you tomorrow before noon and let you know what I find.”
“Alright. Great. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye. Thank you, sir.”
As I climbed into my car, I flashed back to the time that I took my IBM into a shop to be looked at concerning a strange noise it was making. The repairman seemed intelligent and claimed to be the best IBM repairman in the city. Said he loved to work on IBMs more than anything else in the world. If that machine ran any better when I got it back, it was doing so when I was out of the house. I finally took the thing apart and fixed it myself. The point being that the last repairman at least acted intelligent. I was rather apprehensive about this new one.
As expected, there was no phone call the next day. So, bright and early the day after, I took things into my own hands: I called him. He wasn’t in. His secretary told me that he was out to lunch.
“Out to lunch! But it is only eleven thirty! And he promised to call yesterday about my typewriter.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I think he has it apart now, but I don’t know what he has found.”
“Alright. Can you have him call me as soon as he gets in? I am trying to get to San Diego today, and I would like to get word before I go.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll have him call you as soon as he gets in.”
I didn’t have long to wait. In fact, I barely had time to read and annotate Atlas Shrugged in the interim. The phone rang, and the voice I heard told me that it belonged to Phil, down at Fred’s Typewriter Shop. He informed me that the whole job would cost twenty dollars, but that it would take two days. I agreed to the deal and went to San Diego.
I returned to Los Angeles four days after the promised date for my typewriter, and was not at all shocked to find no message with my answering service announcing the completion of the task. This time, I waited until one o’clock before calling. His secretary informed my that Phil was at lunch, but she thought that my machine was being worked on that very moment. She didn’t know what was wrong with it, but she could have him call me when he got back.
I knew that if I left the house for even the briefest of moments I would be risking having him call while I was away, and would thus waste valuable time extricating the message from my answering service when I could be using my new typewriter. I decided that it would not be wise to stay out any longer than the time that it took for a driving test and license renewal, which I did. I barely had time after racing home to re-read the complete works of William Shakespeare before Phil called.
I asked if it was fixed and all was well. He launched into a travelogue of travails that comprised the repair of my typewriter. I had not yet taken lunch, so I put the phone on the counter and popped into the kitchen for a sandwich and a spot of soup, which I had to thaw from the freezer. When I returned, Phil was just detailing the physical appearance of his assistant. I went to the garden for some carrots for the juicer and cleaned up around the place a bit. When I got back, I received confirmation that the cost was indeed still twenty dollars, and made my way to the shop.
When I got there, Phil greeted me like an old friend and said he’d be with me in a minute, he just had some papers to fill out. While I was waiting, I drifted over to one of the new typewriters he had on display. I sat down to rap out a couple of lines, and barely had time to complete a request for a federal grant before Phil was at my side, beaming like an expectant father.
“Isn’t she a beauty?”
“Oh, yeah. Great.”
For the next few minutes, I found out just how great it really was. At first, I tried to bring up all the features the competition’s product offered compared to this one. It increased his output. Then I tried agreeing with him. Consonance — dissonance, it was all the same. He was turned on. I shed my coat, for the place seemed to be warming up a bit, and began a minute inspection of the walls, floor, merchandise, and all else that fell within my ken. This comprehensive review turned up nothing interesting, but presently he finished, and I asked after my own, poor typewriter.
“Ah, yes. Let’s see … that was a Royal, right?”
“No, a Rem …”
“That’s right, a Remington. Here it is. What did I tell you, twenty dollars? That’s right.”
“How did it look when you had it apart?”
“What do you mean?” I could have sworn I heard heavy machinery starting up in the background, and looked quickly around the shop to see if the “CAUTION, BACKFILLERS AT WORK” signs had been put out.
“Does it seem to be in good shape,” I asked, almost longing for the loquacity of old.
“Well, of course, there’s no way of really knowing that.” The sound of the heavy machinery seemed louder and closer.
“I mean, did there seem to anything bent or seriously wrong with it?”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that. It’s just like a car, though. You never can tell. Just because I didn’t find anything …” His voice trailed off indicating that if something went wrong tomorrow, well, he would be less than surprised. I busied myself with writing the check, but really I was thinking about whether or not I could pin him down to an answer, and debating with myself which method would be the best way to about such a thing. I decided to go for a pin, or at least try for the best out of three falls, when I noticed that the subtraction of twenty dollars sent my balance into the universe of negative numbers.
“Tell me,” I began, with just a touch of the helpless consumer in my voice, “was it worth it to put this much money into this typewriter?”
The look on his face told me he had fallen for it.
“Oh, sure. You have nothing to worry about there.”
It had worked. I had sucked him in, and he didn’t even realize it. His expression hadn’t changed a bit, and it remained the same as I said goodbye, swept my typewriter off the counter along with his box of business cards, and headed triumphantly for the door.